Jake Agnos

Sophomore Jake Agnos pitching for ECU.

The No. 16 ranked East Carolina University baseball team went to Orlando, Florida, this weekend and put the entire American Athletic Conference on notice with its 2-1 series win over the previously ranked University of Central Florida.

“This was a great series win for us, going on the road and playing a really good team,” head coach Cliff Godwin said.

Entering the series, ECU (18-5, 2-1 AAC) looked like a team on a mission through its first 20 games, going 16-4 behind superb performances from the offense, defense and pitching. Godwin has engraved his pitch-by-pitch mindset in the heads of his players, and it’s been the key to their success all season.

But with the former No. 23 UCF (18-8, 1-2 AAC) being their first AAC opponent, it’s hard to imagine the Pirates didn’t circle this series on their calendar at the beginning of the year. The Knights pose a huge threat atop the AAC, entering the series with a 17-6 record that included wins over No. 2 University of Florida and No. 22 University of Virginia, making this weekend an opportunity for ECU to show what it’s really made of.

Not only did the Pirates prove to themselves that they’re the real deal, but they showed the rest of the teams in the AAC that they need to bring their A-game if they want to have a chance of beating ECU. In game three of this weekends’ series, the Knights attacked ECU’s Tyler Smith early by jumping out to a 4-1 lead in the first three innings, hoping it would be enough for UCF’s pitching to shut the door the rest of the way.

ECU faced a talented pitching staff of J.J. Montgomery, Luis Ferrer, Cre Finfrock and Eric Hepple, who entered the game with combined ERA under 2.00. But the Pirates’ discipline at the plate ultimately came through in the end, putting together a string of good at-bats that resulted in ECU outscoring UCF 10-2 the rest of the way, securing the 11-6 victory.

“We didn't pitch well, but offensively we hung in there and got to their bullpen,” Godwin said. “It was good to see Gavin (Williams) get back out there, and he, along with (Zach) Barnes, really shut the door over the final three innings.”

The saying goes, pitching wins championships, and ECU’s pitching staff has been the drive for its success all season. The Pirates lead the AAC in total ERA at 2.47, and allow the fewest home runs (five) and walks (59) in the conference. But even though their pitching wasn’t at their best, the Pirates still gave UCF its first series loss of the year because the offense took advantage of opportunities the Knights presented.

This was also key in game two when redshirt sophomore catcher Jake Washer lead-off the eighth inning with a game tying solo homer that seemed to rattle the UCF defense. The Knights went on to commit three errors in the inning which lead to eight more ECU runs to put the game out of reach. The final two games of the series showed that even when one part of ECU’s strength isn’t working, the team has enough other weapons to lean on that are capable of carrying the load.

When all parts of the cylinder are clicking, ECU has a dangerous combination of talent that’s a threat to anyone in the NCAA, let alone the AAC. Although the Pirates are looking at the other top teams in the conference (University of Houston (16-8, 3-0 AAC), Wichita State University (17-4, 0-0 AAC) and University of South Florida (18-57, 2-1 AAC) as the team to beat, as they should, those teams are all looking back at ECU as one of the biggest threats in the conference for good reason.

Houston’s pitching is one the of the best in the AAC, but its offense is vulnerable to ECU’s starting rotation and bullpen. USF’s offense is exceptional and very well rounded with an ability to hit home runs and get on base, but its pitching staff is suspect with a tendency to walk too many batters, an area ECU is excellent at taking advantage of. Finally, Wichita State relies too much on the home run ball, where ECU is first in the AAC in fewest homers allowed.

Those top teams may have some areas where they are stronger than ECU, but their weaknesses aren’t nearly as explicit as the Pirates’, who hardly showed any at this point of the season. This makes it harder for teams to prepare for ECU when they have a difficult time exploiting holes the Pirates haven’t even shown.

Wichita State will do its best when it comes to Greenville on Thursday to start a three-game series with Pirates at 6:30 p.m.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.